Manchester Collective’s ‘Recreation’

Released in August 2020 on the Bedroom Community label, Manchester Collective’s debut EP is a little piece of drama combining music written across multiple centuries from Bach, to Vivaldi, to Ligeti, to Paul Clark.

I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while now but have like a lot of other projects been dragging my feet somewhat. Returning to the playlist just last week and listening to it back a few times, a few thoughts came to mind.

First that this collection of tracks reignites memories of the listening experience had when purchasing an album on vinyl or CD. Here is a collection of tracks ordered with a narrative in mind. Story emerges in the transition from one vaguely familiar track and something new. Imagination is triggered by this style of curation. A personal narrative emerges.

That’s something I remember Andre de Ridder articulating when I spoke to him about the Spitalfields Festival a few years back. He talked about the idea of not just listening to the music itself, but connectiong to the mood or thoughts which emerge when two seemingly disparate musical ideas are juxtaposed. Something occurs in the gaps between music that is every bit as powerful as the music itself. Or it might even add to the music. Or even take it in an entirely different location.

As it happens, this is I think what Manchester Collective were aiming for I discover now I come to read the promotional blurb.

‘Recreation’ is a mixtape. It’s picking up something warm, soft and familiar, and pricking your finger. There is real jeopardy in the playing, which is perpetually close to the edge of what is possible in sound and in colour.

Manchester Collective

At seventeen minutes or so, it feels like a mini-concept album more than a playlist or a mixtape, indicative of the kind of real-life Manchester Collective experiences audiences who are in the know have and certainly reminscent of the one I had at Kings Place or at Peckham last year. Only this has been translated as an audio event, successful not only because of the invigorating musicianship evident in the mix, but also in the polished marketing to accompany the product. There is a sophisticated aspiration in the way ‘Recreation’ looks that is matched by what is heard.

And they achieve a rare thing. They’ve re-introduced me to the music of Ligeti in such a way that I’m hungry to hear more.

Classic Manchester Collective.

Buy ‘Recreation’ on Bandcamp for as little as 4 Euros. WAV, MP3 or FLAC downloads available.

Listen to Adam Szabo in conversation on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast.

Daniel Elms and the Manchester Collective at Peckham's CLF Art Theatre

Review: Manchester Collective premieres Daniel Elms’ new work at Peckham CLF Art Cafe

Manchester Collective has found it’s London home with Daniel Elms’ capitivating Islandia

Manchester Collective created a Fringe vibe with an added sense of urgency about it in one of CLF Aft Theatre’s warehouse spaces last Tuesday.

Some people sat, some people mingled at the bar, others stood at the back and the sides pint glasses in hand. The musicians of Manchester Collective took their seats and, as though they were preparing to perform an operation, carefully fiddled with screws and dials, positioned themselves in their seats and checked their instruments. Respectful nods and smiles exchanged, a reverential pause, and a new sound world – to be found on composer Daniel Elms’ new album Islandia also released last week – emerged.

Such productions are tricky things to pull off, as I pointed out to an industry chap a couple of days afterwards.

Putting classical music in unusual venues is in itself a bit old hat now. Endless organisations issue proclamations revelling in their supposed innovative approach to making audiences feel less intimidated at the concert hall (the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is doing a run of concerts with ‘light displays’ later in the year) believing that transplanting their usual programmes into a different venue is all they need to do.

The trick is to make the music fit the venue. There’s no real dark art to this. Use instinct. Exploit neuro-linguistic cues: some repertoire works (usually chamber or solo and almost certainly Baroque, early classical or contemporary), other repertoire doesn’t. The more intimate the venue and the more pared back the score, the better the two will combine.

But it’s also about understanding the audience you want to appeal to, and anticipating the experience they want.

And that’s where I think Manchester Collective do successfully achieve the perfect mix. The vibe is right for the crowd. A re-purposed warehouse in South East London’s version of Shoreditch (minus the hipsters), a few theatrical lights, and the right music. Not only new music from Daniel Elms and Singh/Gainsborough, but Bach as well. Nothing felt too forced. Nothing stuck out like a sore thumb particularly.

The overall effect had a strange effect on my memories.

My teenage years (and those in higher education) were awkward and confused. I was a massive square, and didn’t really do cool, curious, or unorthodox. The kind of places my contemporaries were frequenting on Friday and Saturday nights didn’t interest. In fact, they scared me. To fit in would have necessitated completely changing my personality. I avoided most of them.

But there are times nowadays – like Tuesday evening in Peckham – when the vibe prompts me to recall those few experiences I did participate in with a warm glow, as though adulthood has helped me understand what the appeal of such experiences are and finally, at the age of 46, made me ready and possibly even hungry for them. It all seemed so alienating in the early 1990s when I was supposed to run towards it. Twenty-five years later its my kind of thing by virtue of the fact it makes me feel a little edgy.

Daniel Elms’ work played a key role in establishing the vibe. It’s a compelling collection of pieces running to 40 minutes with flashes of Reich, Glass and, part way through a ravishing trumpet solo – a musical oasis of bittersweet calm. Unusual sounds you never thought you wanted to hear that draw you into a world fuelled by your own imagination. I found it engrossing, absorbing, and thoroughly entertaining.

This was the first of a string of tour dates in which Elms’s new work appears and with a beatifully poetic piece of scheduling, the studio recording of Islandia has come out this week too. Hear it live, listen to it back on your preferred streaming service (or even buy it).

I was less enthralled by Singh/Gainsborough’s Paradise Lost. Lengthy and often intense, it did have a similar to MC’s gig at King’s Place recently where I felt it pushed me to the edge of my emotions, an achievement which might paradoxically be the sign of good art.

Daniel Elms Islandia is available via Bandcamp and Spotify.